Friday, December 30, 2011

The Best Of 2011

2011 has certainly been a busy year in terms of releases. And just like every year, the music released throughout the year brought on its mix of unexpected surprises, stunning gems, sad misfires and absolute barkers. As per usual, I’d like to point out that this is by no means a definitive list of what the best albums/songs of 2011 were. Instead, it’s a list of releases that got me excited, and reaffirmed my belief that even though the music industry is only a former shadow of its once glorious self, there’s no shortage of great music on offer.

Top 10 Albums Of 2011

1.    Black Country Communion – 2 (J&R Adventures/Fontana Distribution)

Supergroups are a strange beast, with some living up to their hype, and some completely failing to match listener’s expectations with their efforts. And Black Country Communion is no exception. While their debut was a solid release, it hardly blew me away. But with ‘2’, the band pulled out all the stops, cast aside their reservations and delivered an absolute killer album. If this album is a true indication of what the band can do, I hope there’s more to come in the future.

2.    Floating Me - Floating Me (Independent Release/Cross Section/Inertia Pty. Ltd.)

A group of well-known musicians that promised great things given those involved, and duly delivered well and truly beyond my initial expectations. Forward thinking, diverse and at times completely different from what you would expect, Floating Me’s debut is not for those who are looking for an easily digestible metal album, but more for those who aren’t afraid to embrace the strange and the experimental beyond the finite metal genre.

3.    Anthrax – Worship Music (Nuclear Blast Records)

I’ve always been a big fan of Anthrax, but even I’d had enough of the soap opera that was continually dogging the band ever since Bush left in 2005. So with Anthrax returning with a new album and Belladonna back on board after having tried completing the same release with former front man Dan Nelson – I was less than enthusiastic about the prospects of a return to glory for the New Yorkers. Needless to say, I was wrong in a big way. Not what I would call an all-out Anthrax classic, but definitely a worthy release from a band that most fans had almost given up on.

4.    Anathema – Falling Deeper (Kscope Music/Snapper Music)

New orchestral arrangements of past classics? It’s hardly a new twist, and far from an entirely captivating way to keep fans coming back for more – Right? Under normal circumstances – yes. But this is Anathema, and given the band’s more recent track record, this is something worthy. Serene, haunting and absolutely captivating, ‘Falling Deeper’ may be a selection of old songs given a makeover, but the end results sound completely new in a familiar kind of way. Fans of the band’s last couple of releases (2008’s ‘Hindsight’ and 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’) have to check this out.

5.    In Flames - Sounds Of A Playground Fading (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

For some, In Flames were never really the same once they released ‘Clayman’ in 2000. In a lot of ways I agree with that, because their sound did change a lot with their follow-up to ‘Reroute To Remain’ (2002). As the years progressed, In Flames’ releases have been greeted with a mixed response, with those preferring the band’s old sound, and those who enjoyed In Flames’ latter day sound. But after years of trial and error, In Flames finally found the perfect mix of both eras. Guitarist Jesper Strömblad may have been absent, but you certainly wouldn’t know it.

6.    Truth Corroded - Worship The Bled (Truth Inc. Records/M.G.M. Distribution)

Adelaide (South Australia) based thrash/metalcore outfit Truth Corroded have always impressed with their ability to go from strength to strength with every new release, and their fourth album ‘Worship The Bled’ is no exception. Brutal, catchy and absolutely kicking from start to finish. This is one hell of a release, and Truth Corroded deserves all the success they get from such an album.

7.    Leprous – Bilateral (Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

Exploratory, adventurous and really hard to pin down, ‘Bilateral’ is one of those albums that you either love or loathe. And I definitely loved it. I love all facets of progressive rock, but if there’s one album within the genre worthy of singling out as something really special, it’s the Norwegian’s latest effort.

8.    Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events (Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia)

Somewhere deep down inside, I knew that Dream Theater would always be able to produce what was needed following drummer Mike Portnoy’s less than amicable split with the band. After all, everyone within the band is a song writer in their own right, and Dream Theater has a well and truly established sound. But there’s something about the consistency and well-rounded nature of the band’s latest effort that has been missing on some of their more recent releases. It’s still far from a perfect release, but if the band continues to move forward in this direction, I’m definitely looking forward to the band’s future outfit.

9.    The Haunted – Unseen (Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)

I’m definitely in the minority here, but I actually like the albums The Haunted have made beyond the self-titled debut back in 1998. Unlike some of the band’s former efforts, ‘Unseen’ really does show what Peter Dolving is capable of as a vocalist, from both the extreme parameters right through to the more melodic stuff. Most old-school fans of The Haunted were disappointed with this album, but personally, I don’t think the band would be half as interesting as they are now if they simply dished out their self-titled album time and time again.

10.    Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning (Kscope Music/Snapper Music)

Broader in scope, more progressive and definitely more experimental that anything Wilson produced on his first solo release (2009’s ‘Insurgentes’), ‘Grace For Drowning’ is far from a casual or easy listen, but worth the time and patience it demands of the listener. Sonically the album is an absolute feast for audiophiles, all the while an absolute masterpiece for those who relish Wilson’s penchant for the most unexpected hook in an otherwise impenetrable wall of sound.

Top 10 Favourite Songs Of 2011

I’ve never written a list of top ten tracks before, so I’m not sure if this list really qualified as the best of what I’ve heard this year in terms of single tracks. So with that in mind, I’ve chosen songs from albums that didn’t quite make it into my top ten albums of the year so that I could cover a little more (And different) ground.

1.    Tesla – 2nd Street (From ‘Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions…’)

Tesla with acoustic guitars is a match made in classic rock heaven, and this brand new track from their latest recording is an absolute stunner. Tesla has rarely failed to deliver in their twenty-five years, and this is clear proof of that.

2.    Symphony X – Children Of A Faceless God (From ‘Iconoclast’)

I’ve always been a captivated by Russel Allen’s ability to create an incredibly stirring hook in Symphony X’s work, and this is without a doubt one of my favourites from this album. This is pure genius as far as I’m concerned.

3.    Devin Townsend – Blackberry (From ‘Ghost’)

Devin Townsend can pretty much cover any sort of genre he wants, and still makes it sound different. So to hear him delving a little more into the country side of things really doesn’t come as any surprise. The fact that the song is so good can really only be seen as a bonus.

4.    Evile – The Cult (From ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth’)

The only reason Evile’s album didn’t make my top ten list of 2011 is because I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive by mail through Amazon. But if the album is anything to go by this absolutely thrashing scorcher, I just know I’ll be spinning the disc for some years to come.

5.    Sepultura – Mask (From ‘Kairos’)

Sepultura have certainly endured some hard times over the years since the departure of Max Cavalera. But unlike most, I actually like the albums with Derrick Green out front – especially their latest effort ‘Kairos’. The album is full of great tunes, but it’s ‘Mask’ that really stands out. The mix of spoken words and growls, and the clever use of textures on the musical front is well done, and shows that the band aren’t afraid to keep pushing the boundaries beyond the tried and true formula of the old Sepultura sound.

6.    Decapitated – 404 (From ‘Carnival Is Forever’)

Decapitated remerged with a new take on their technical death metal sound on ‘Carnival Is Forever’, and it wasn’t embraced by all. Personally, I loved the album, and in particular tracks like ‘404’ where the band really push their sound into previously unexplored areas. Technically proficient, but experimental and abstract in terms of background atmospherics and use of effects. In other words it’s progressive, but still brutal.

7.    The Eternal – Departure (From ‘Under A New Sun’)

Befitting its name, ‘Departure’ shows a different side to The Eternal, with the band bringing to the fore their Pink Floyd influences – particularly within the guitar solo. It’s not likely to be played live all that often, or remembered by fans as one of the album’s more stand out tracks. But to these ears, it’s a definite favourite.

8.    Dredg – The Ornament (From ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’)

O.K., I’ll admit this is far from metal, but a good song will always be a good song. And although Dredg’s latest effort sees the band straying too far from their core sound in the musical sense for most, they still know how to write some great songs. This is by far one of the album’s more chilled out and emotive efforts, and one of the album’s stronger tracks. The fact that it’s my five year old’s favourite song for 2011 also works in its favour.

9.    Alice Cooper – I Am Made Of You (From ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’)

Alice Cooper has never been afraid to try something new on his albums, and his latest release is well and truly one of the most diversified efforts to date. But unfortunately, not all of it worked. One track that did was the opener ‘I Am Made Of You’. Musically tied in with the classic ‘Steven’ with its haunting atmospherics, and featuring some truly classic rock inspired lead guitar work, this song is a strange way to start off the album, but perfect in a lot of ways.

10.    Blackfield – Far Away (From ‘Welcome To My DNA’)

Depressing pop with real emotional depth - that pretty much sums up this track. It’s a bitter and sad song that could only come from the combined efforts of Porcupine Tree/No-Man mastermind Steven Wilson and Israeli artist Aviv Geffen, but with a distinctly pop feel underpinning it all. Beautifully tragic, and yet oh so catchy.

Biggest Surprise Of 2011

Nick D’Virgilio vacating the vocal/drum position in Spock’s Beard, and then discovering that Ted Leonard (Enchant/Thought Chamber) was taking his place. I’m sad to see D’Virgilio go, but Leonard is certainly an interesting choice. Time will tell if SB MKIII’s recording plans will match the brilliance of last’s year’s ‘X’.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2011

Most will no doubt take a stab at Metallica’s misguided match up with Lou Reed on the woeful ‘Lulu’. But I think that’s a little too obvious. Personally, I can’t help but shake my head at Megadeth, who I think really put the bare minimum into their latest release ‘Th1rt3en’. Megadeth have rarely let me down in the past (I say rarely – not never), but this album is simply by the numbers to my ears.

Best Newcomer Of 2011

I would have said Floating Me, but I didn’t want to repeat myself. So I’ll go with Tasmanian act Deligma, who made their debut on the scene with ‘Forever Faded’. I’m keen hear where the band will take their progressive/nu-metal/modern metal sound next.

Most Anticipated Album For 2012

The upcoming Black Sabbath album. I’m not getting my hopes up (Especially given the lacklustre studio efforts on 1998’s ‘Reunion’ live album), but I’m looking forward to seeing what they can come up with alongside producer Rick Rubin.

© Justin Donnelly